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Being faithful is not easy. Recently, my church received a disturbing threat—to be candid, a death threat. Reflecting on this situation, I penned this essay with Zechariah in mind.
Christians are artisans. They stand in a long line of them like Bezalel and Oholiab, who built the tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 31, 36), Huram-Abi, who aided in the building of the Solomonic temple (2 Chronicles 2:7, 2:13-14), and the four craftsmen of Zechariah’s vision who helped rebuild the post-exilic temple (Zechariah 1:18-21). Christians, at their best, find inspiration and encouragement in God and build, and what they build is nothing less than the temple of God. The imagery of building, however, is not primarily intended to convey physical construction with brick and mortar; rather, building means extending the work of God in the world—bringing the worship of God to his people, sharing Christ’s love in communities to bring needed encouragement, and carrying the message of Christ to places where Christ is little known.
No one needs to say that this work is difficult. We live in a fallen world with fallen people, ourselves included. What we might fail to see, however, is that when we seek to do the work of God, there is a spiritual dimension where discouragement and fear are very real. In a word, opposition confronts builders of God’s works. The vision of the four craftsmen comes at one of those times. According to Ezra’s narrative, the foundation of the temple was laid quickly, but the work halted midway because of threats, intimidation, and lies. Rumors began to fly that the Jews were rebuilding a rebellious and wicked city (Ezra 4:12). Of course, none of this was true, but slander and libel possess destructive power. Eventually, these winged words fell into the ear of king Artaxerxes, and he issued a letter commanding the Jews to stop all construction. Who can go against the king’s words? For 14 years, the Jews did not build. Fear gripped their hearts, and the desire to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem dimmed.
In this context, God raised up a prophet, Zechariah, to energize this beleaguered group. Zechariah’s nightly visions were meant to strengthen this post-exilic community to reengage their mission to build. Zechariah’s second vision is easy to miss; it is only four verses in length, and it is difficult to interpret. But to do so would be to overlook a key spiritual insight, namely that we can drive out fear.
In his vision, horns and artisans appear. At first, Zechariah sees four horns, a symbol of power in this ancient world, which represent the dark forces arrayed against the people of God. They are the ones who “scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head” (Zechariah 1:21). Israel’s foes are in view. Zechariah’s vision continues as he sees four craftsmen. More importantly, these craftsmen terrify the horns of power and will eventually throw them down (Zech. 1:21). The Hebrew verb that is used, “cast down,” is related to an Ugaritic verb ydy, which means to cast out. The connotation is one of exorcism. These craftsmen cast out by casting down, by being faithful to the work of God. More importantly, we see a paradoxical reversal of circumstances. God’s people—who were terrified—now terrify, and the horns of power who were terrifying are now terrified. The key is for God’s people not to give into fear. Hence the prophetic encouragement to do whatever God has called his people to do. When the church takes a stand on God’s Word and obeys, it does something in the unseen register. It shows the unseen world that it does not fear disordered public opinion, intimidation, and fearmongering. By the church’s tenacious faithfulness, it overcomes the invisible forces behind opposition.
It is no wonder that the devil tries his best to keep believers from being faithful. Craftsmen remind him of the exodus, the building of the temple, the resurrection of Christ, and his final defeat. All of this is a reminder and an encouragement for the church to labor and be faithful especially in the face of intimidation and opposition.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this essay, a few of my congregants received death threats. I was reminded again how fallen our world really is. That Sunday we went online. The question was what we would do for the following Sundays. We decided to resume public worship with police presence. Why? Zechariah’s vision. Our worship builds, our presence builds, our witness builds. Moreover, we fight an unseen battle where we can expel fear by not fearing. Though Zechariah did not know the writings of John, John’s reflection completes Zechariah’s: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18)